Disc Reviews

There's always an element of ghoulishness and perceived grave-robbing when an album is cobbled together by the estate of a deceased major artist.

elliot smith disk 88 298 (photo credit: )
elliot smith disk 88 298
(photo credit: )
ELLIOTT SMITH New Moon (NMC) There's always an element of ghoulishness and perceived grave-robbing when an album is cobbled together by the estate of a deceased major artist. For years Jimi Hendrix was more prolific dead than he ever was alive. His albums regularly appeared containing outtakes, live cuts and other material that were probably never meant to see the light of day. Therefore it was natural to greet the "new" Elliott Smith double CD New Moon with some trepidation. Granted, his first posthumous album From a Basement on the Hill was completed following his death in 2003, but whatever tinkering was administered didn't diminish that album's powerful effect. In fact, it might stand as his career pinnacle. But it raised the question as to what else there was in the vaults of the prolific and gifted artist? Thankfully, New Moon's answer is much more of the same demonic/angelic material that helped make Smith one of the premier singer/songwriters of his generation. The archivist of Smith's musical estate, close friend Larry Crane, had access to hours of material recorded between 1994 and 1996, when the fledgling rocker was still a relatively unknown cult figure - well before he was nominated for an Oscar for his Good Will Hunting version of "Miss Misery" and the release of his breakout album Either/Or. Consisting mostly of complete takes with multiple acoustic guitars, double-tracked vocals and other instrumentation, New Moon sounds like it could have been the alternate universe to Smith's official releases of that period. There's rarely that spare demo feeling to the tracks, and most of the songs, particularly Disc One's delicate "Angel in the Snow," the power pop of "New Monkey" or "Looking Over My Shoulder" could have easily replaced the officially released tracks on the Smith albums of that time. Equally riveting are the early versions of later-released songs like "Miss Misery" and "Either/Or," and bittersweet rendition of Big Star's classic "Thirteen." Disc Two feels slightly less consistent, and indicated that New Moon is likely to be the last Elliott Smith album of new material that we'll be privileged to hear. But given a choice of letting these exquisite songs remain unheard, or having them polished up with titles and production tricks, I'll take the latter. As Crane astutely wrote in the CD booklet, "Elliott Smith 'leftovers' present a catalogue rivaling many songwriters' life's work." THE STOOGES The Weirdness (Helicon) What's most striking about listening to the first album by The Stooges in 24 years is how ordinary it sounds. Once the punkiest, most raucous garage rock bands around, Iggy Pop and his band of merry noisemakers are no longer groundbreaking, shocking, or even eye-raising. You can hear their sound done starker and more intensely in everyone from The White Stripes to last year's other big 70s reformation - the New York Dolls. Still the bare-boned attack of the Asheton brothers, Ron on guitar and Scott on drums, joined by former Minutemen bassist Mike Watt, pack a solid enough minimalist wallop and a sturdy backdrop for Pop to flaunt his ever-entertaining stuff. More cartoonish than ever, songs with titles like "Trolling," "Free and Freaky," and "Greedy Awful People" boast lyrics that sound like The Ramones without the irony. Iggy seems content to settle for cheap laughs on lines like "England and France, these cultures are old/The cheese is stinky and the beer isn't cold," rather than the biting social commentary he was known for. While an album as lukewarm as The Weirdness might put a damper in the desire to see The Stooges in Tel Aviv next month, advance word is that their live show does a much more convincing job of capturing the mayhem of vintage Iggy.